Is President Obama ahead or tied in Ohio? If you look at the poll released this morning, from Quinnipiac University, the clear answer is that Obama has a solid lead—five points, as a matter of fact. But if you tuned in this afternoon and saw the poll from Suffolk University—which shows a tie between Obama and Mitt Romney—you’ll either be panicked (if you’re a Democrat) or thrilled (if you’re a Republican).
Wait a minute: Wasn’t President Obama supposed to get a generous boost in the polls from his masterly comeback performance on Tuesday night? A counter-bounce to the one Romney got from Round One? If so, it’s been awfully slow in coming. The main polling headline in recent days sent Democrats right back into a depressive spiral: Gallup’s weekly tracking poll, out on Thursday, showed the Republican leading nationally by his biggest margin yet—seven points. The swing states remain much the same, with Obama clinging to narrow leads in most. So what gives?
Undoubtedly, there are some liberals panicking over the latest Gallup tracking poll, which shows Mitt Romney with a seven-point lead over President Obama, 51 percent to 44 percent.
Before confining themselves to despair, however, liberals should remember a few things:
First, individual polls aren’t accurate measures of the state of the race. As more and more polls are released—and there is more and more noise—it’s important to pay attention to averages. Even something as crude as the Real Clear Politics average—which brings together the most recent polls—is useful in reducing the influence of outliers.
All across America on Tuesday night, a little after 10:30, Democrats were leaning forward in their seats, rubbing their hands in eager anticipation while Republicans covered their eyes and winced over what was about to happen. Mitt Romney, after spending the night treating his opponent, the moderator, and the truth with ugly contempt, had just done the nicest thing you could imagine: He’d offered President Obama a kind invitation to close the festivities by invoking the Republican’s most devastating blunder of the campaign, his “47 percent” remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton last May. Not once, but twice, Romney had used his own closing moments to claim that he cares about “100 percent” of Americans.
Everyone knows that Mitt Romney is stiff and awkward, which is why everyone also knows that he’ll do poorly at tonight’s town hall debate. Of the two candidates, Barack Obama is supposed to be the one who is friendly and personable with ordinary people. Even with his poor performance two weeks ago, the assumption is that Obama will benefit from the change in format. But will he?
The fact is that there are serious pitfalls for the president tonight. The first, of course, is that if he doesn’t do well, he'll give Romney a chance to solidify his gains with another solid win. There’s also the chance that he overcompensates for his initial loss, and is too aggressive against the Republican nominee. In which case, he comes across as unpresidential—and a little bit desperate.